Minnesota has not been kind to the San Francisco 49ers. They have lost their last two games there, one on a miraculous throw by Brett Favre, (here, turn away Niner fans) and the other an absolute clunker this past Sunday. Despite the somewhat embarrassing loss, the 49ers still stand at 2-1, a record most fans would take given the difficulty of the first two games. However, whether it was overlooking their opponent, not preparing properly, or just playing poorly, the loss to the Vikings exposed some flaws in a team that many had deemed the favorites to win the NFC. If the 49ers want to live up to that billing, they’ll need to address the following things.
- Open Up the Playbook/Spread the Field
The 49ers brought in additional talent at the receiver position in the off-season. Randy Moss was brought in as a deep threat and Mario Manningham to assist in the slot and stretch the field as well. But through three games, they haven’t taken many shots down field, despite these established targets. Yes, Alex Smith does not have a successful track record of deep passing, but he has never had targets like Moss and Manningham. And over the past season, it looks like he has improved a bit, especially when he makes long throws on wheel and seam routes run by Vernon Davis. With that said, if the 49ers want to make a deep run this year, they’ll need to show the ability to stretch the field, and that ultimately comes down to the play calling of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. Whether or Not Smith is able to hit them is a question mark, but fans will never know if he is not given that opportunity.
- Get Consistent Pressure
The lack of pressure applied to Vikings’ QB Christian Ponder was a primary reason that Ponder looked like a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. The 49ers have established pass rushers in Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, and Ahmad Brooks, but could not get anything going against a less-than-stellar offensive line. Ponder had far too much time to throw and get comfortable in the pocket, leading to a dissection of the 49ers defense. Suddenly, Ponder had transformed to Brett Favre (sort of, not literally, but you know what I mean)! The lack of sacks cost the Niners, creating the Ponder was just absolutely fabulous. They’ll need to hit quarterbacks consistently (like the New York Giants famously do) to truly become title contenders.
- Give the Ball to Frank Gore
Gore is the 49ers workhorse and a focal point of the offense. The way the team is built, the running game dictates the offense’s success. The passing game is simply not consistent enough to entirely carry the team. So when Frank Gore only touches the ball 13 times in a game, he’s either been injured, or the team is in trouble. And the latter is exactly what happened last Sunday. Gore had 12 carries for 63 yards (a very good 5.25 yards per carry) and one catch for nine yards. If the 49ers HAVE to get the ball to Gore more than just 13 times per game. And this game was not even a blowout; the 49ers just strangely abandoned the run. They’ll need to feed the beast often in order to go deep, look where it helped get them last season.